About etiquetteer.com

Etiquetteer is known socially as Robert B. Dimmick. A native of Louisiana, Mr. Dimmick emigrated North for education, finally settling in that Athens of America, Boston, Massachusetts.

Mr. Dimmick spent his childhood attending weddings, reading Emily Post’s Etiquette, and being teased and taunted by other children for minding his mother, taking everything the preacher said seriously, and generally being a Good Boy. This ultimately led to an aversion to organized sports, television, and popular culture in general, and definite opinions about everything from restaurant dining to wedding dresses to historic preservation. Mr. Dimmick believes in the sartorial legacy of President Harry S Truman, getting out of the way of oncoming traffic quickly, and the tasteful expression of free speech. He is, all too often, willing to express an opinion on just about anything.

By day, Mr. Dimmick plans class reunions for one of those great big universities. By night he enjoys club openings, dinner parties, memoirs of the Fabulous, yoga, the music of the American songbook, and spirited conversation with friends. He invites you to behave with Perfect Propriety whether you want to or not.


Table Manners, Vol. 14, Issue 11

March 25th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

This question came up at a work dinner. I was served first, as was one other person. As I was taught, I waited for others to be served. One other told me to eat while it was warm. It was then mentioned that the new etiquette is to eat when you are served. So what are the rules? Eat when you are served, or wait for others?

Dear Dining:

Etiquetteer’s first response when reading your query was, alas, rather sarcastic: “Have you heard about the new etiquette? You get to do whatever you want no matter how inconvenient to others!”

Why do we wait for others? Because it’s awkward to be the only person at the table not eating, whether that’s at the beginning of the meal or the end. We are invited to break bread together, not consecutively. Suppose you had bolted through your dinner and had nothing left by the time everyone else was served? You’d be in the same boat as the diner who had been served last. It’s equally awkward to be the last person still eating.

When dining in a private home, everyone’s dinner is more likely to arrive because everyone is (more often than not) being served the same meal. When dining in restaurants there is always the risk that diners will be served at different times, because the cooking times of individual choices may vary.

It’s most Perfectly Proper to wait for all to be served before beginning one’s meal. It’s most Perfectly Proper, when one is one of the last to be served, to exhort others to begin eating – especially if there seems to be a risk of a lengthy delay. And even when urged to begin, Etiquetteer does so with reluctance, hoping that the waiter will really not be too long with the remaining covers.


Six Pieces of Perfect Propriety to Bring Back, Vol. 14, Issue 10

March 23rd, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Etiquetteer can think of six pieces of Perfect Propriety that we might bring back for more Gracious Living:

  1. The term and function of “collation.” A collation is a light, informal meal, such as a continental breakfast or after-theatre supper. Etiquetteer supposes that an afternoon tea could be considered a form of collation. Perhaps Etiquetteer just likes the idea of a big percolator in the dining room with a tray of delicious pastries.
  2. General understanding of table stationery for formal functions. Etiquetteer gnashes his teeth in frustration to see people look at a placecard and have no idea what it’s for. A table card is what is received on arrival at a formal dinner, and it includes one’s name and table number on a tiny card in a tiny, unsealed envelope. A place card is a card with one’s name on it used to mark one’s chair at one’s table. At less formal function for which designated seating is necessary, often place cards are presented on arrival so that guests may choose their own seats. Etiquetteer always hopes this will keep diners from tipping their chairs forward or covering them with bits of clothing to mark their places – so inelegant.
  3. Egg cups, and not just for the traditional service of soft-boiled eggs at breakfast. With the proliferation of artificial sweeteners, Etiquetteer uses some beautiful old transfer-ware egg cups from a family service to provide those essential packets. But some mornings there’s nothing like a good three-minute egg in an egg cup.
  4. Boutonnieres, real ones. Especially with the spring coming on after this Historic Winter, it might be considered groundbreaking for lapel florals to break out in spring. Remember, a Perfectly Proper boutonniere is only the flower; no backing of ferns or other greenery is needed.
  5. Cups and saucers instead of mugs. At different times Etiquetteer has contemplated starting a Campaign to Bring Back the Saucer. In the hurly burly of the workplace, that’s probably too fragile-appearing to sustain, but at home, how restful. And one never has to worry about where to put the spoon when one has a saucer.
  6. Candlelight, flattering to all, and creates an atmosphere of both mystery and coziness.


Etiquetteer Reviews Amy Alkon’s “Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck,” Vol. 14, Issue 9

March 14th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

The closest Etiquetteer has ever thought about the intersection of Etiquette and Science has been what to wear when accepting a Nobel Prize. So it was first with mounting surprise that Etiquetteer read Amy Alkon’s bracing Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck, and then with the excitement that comes with Received Wisdom So Obvious One Wonders Why One Hadn’t Already Known It.

This colorful volume may be the perfect etiquette book for nerds, because Alkon refers frequently to scientific research that explains why humans behave the way they do, and the steps we need to take, individually and as a community, to live together harmoniously.* For instance, everyone is irritated by intrusive cell phone conversations. Alkon tells her readers why, citing research from Cornell about “halfalogues.” Turns out a different part of our brain gets engaged listening to someone on the phone; we’re all trying to figure out what the other half of the conversation is, whether we want to or not! And this is only one example. Her “science-based theory that we’re experiencing more rudeness than ever because we recently lost the constraints on our behavior that were in place for millions of years” is thoroughly researched and piquantly presented. Just for the term “inconsiderado” alone this book is worth reading.

It’s interesting to consider how this volume differs from the etiquette books of the last century. When one reads the works of Emily Post, Lillian Eichler, Millicent Fenwick, Amy Vanderbilt, etc., one is more likely to be reading about formal dinners, country house weekends, weddings at home, and behavior with and toward servants. Etiquetteer attributes this to Americans who cared about manners reading about the manners of those one or more rungs above them on the social scale, as well as to a more general feeling of respect toward Refinement and Gracious Living. (Nowadays, we see a more defensive respect of Comfort and Casualness. Etiquetteer says “defensive” because the most zealous defenders of those qualities use them to justify Sloppiness and Selfishness.)

These writers wrote about the rules and how to follow them, but much less so about how to interact with those who would not follow them – beyond, of course, excluding them from one’s society. Reading these books, we forget that rudeness still took place in the past. (It should surprise no one that there has always been rudeness. This is the true reason why etiquette books came into being.) Alkon writes feelingly about issues all of us without servants have to face in daily life: double parking, intrusive cell phone conversations, inconsiderate neighbors, litterbugs, and combat driving.

Etiquetteer was especially impressed with Alkon’s addressing of issues most of those early 20th-century etiquette writers never had to face: air travel. Security requirements – how Etiquetteer deplores the “security theatre” of having to remove garments and be X-rayed! – and the reduction of personal space and addition of baggage fees by the airlines have created even more challenges to Perfect Propriety. Alkon calls these out, and also calls on air travelers to show some needed respect for flight attendants: “Flight attendants are supposed to provide food and beverage service, not servitude.”

Etiquetteer will admit to smiling with delight reading Alkon’s owning of the “etiquette aunties,” a group into which Etiquetteer could likely be lumped: “. . . quite a bit of the the advice given by traditional etiquette aunties is rather arbitrary, which is why one etiquette auntie advises that a lady may apply lipstick at the dinner table and another considers it an act only somewhat less taboo than squatting and taking a pee in the rosebushes.” Alkon may be the perfect etiquette auntie for the 21st century: less likely to be pouring tea for the D.A.R. at home, more likely to be in coffee shops politely letting the oblivious know that their headphones are leaking. Read this book.

*Of course Etiquetteer immediately remembered Rose Sayer, Katharine Hepburn’s character in The African Queen, saying “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put on this earth rise above.”

Etiquetteer at Random, Vol. 14, Issue 8

March 3rd, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Perhaps it’s just the weather, but Etiquetteer has become something of a magpie, hopping from one shiny observation on manners to the other:

  • The Perfectly Proper place for a table knife is to the right of one’s dinner plate, not in the center of the back of one’s dinner partner, and certainly not in one’s host’s back.
  • Mourning should show respect for those being mourned, which means that those wearing mourning need to look put together. Just tossing on everything one owns that is black will not do. It must be appropriate to the occasion and with the other garments worn at the same time.
  • One of the most Perfectly Proper talents one can cultivate is that of changing the subject when controversial topics, or even topics on which people might disagree with more Heat than Perfect Propriety, come up in conversation.
  • Sometimes Etiquetteer is tempted to ask Incessant Texters “If you were with the person you’re texting now, would you be texting me?” But that’s not very Perfectly Proper . . .
  • Last month after Etiquetteer’s very successful talk, “Evolution of the Dinner Party 1860-1954″ at the Gibson House Museum, a member of the audience asked when, during that time, guests might inform hosts about allergies and dietary needs. The answer, of course, was “Never.” These days the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s no wonder the amount of entertaining conducted in homes has declined. No host can be a short-order cook, nor should be.
  • Etiquetteer hopes all the ladies are preparing their pink mohair coats for spring.
  • The practice of making multiple, simultaneous reservations and different restaurants “because I don’t know what I’ll be in the mood for,” is Absolutely Outrageous and needs to be stopped. Certainly some restaurants have taken to shaming no-shows publicly on the internet (about which Etiquetteer feels ambivalent), but one solution would be for those online reservation websites to prohibit multiple simultaneous reservations from the same diners.

Finally, Etiquetteer can only wonder what misuse of the plumbing led to the posting of this sign: “This sink is for hand washing only. No other articles can be placed inside or on this sink.”

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